Cautious optimism on the labor front would be the best course after this week’s decision by Maryland to suspend counterproductive unemployment perks next month.
There are too many complexities at play this summer to celebrate Maryland’s decision to not participate in the federal government’s extra $300 weekly boost and reinstate the job search requirement effective early July. Based on all the unique factors at play in the seasonal marketplace, the impact of these changes will not likely be experienced this summer season.
At its simplest, Ocean City is going to struggle on the labor front this summer for one reason — about 20% of the typical foreign workers are expected to be here this summer. If the estimated 1,000 workers do arrive as expected, it will mean approximately 2,000 jobs will be filled because each individual works at least two positions. Finding housing for these workers has been a major challenge, resulting in some additional prospects for Ocean City having to look elsewhere in places like Williamsburg, Va. and Hershey, Pa. where they can work at amusement parks, restaurants and hotels.
It’s unexpected next month’s unemployment changes will result in a flurry of job seekers hitting the market in Ocean City. Most business owners are hoping the state’s action will bring in a few new bodies to help at the height of the season, but many are simply set to pivot and adjust their hours of operation based on the crews they have employed currently. For example, and we hope the majority do not face such drastic measures, Smitty McGee’s in Fenwick Island announced this week it will be closing Mondays through Wednesdays for the foreseeable future based on staffing issues. Others are simply making quick and unplanned decisions to close a day here and there to give employees some rest when they sense trouble.
Further complicating issues for businesses are shortages in food supplies and simple human nature. A variety of reasons have led to certain foods, such as crab meat, chicken wings and vegetables, being unavailable or priced at exorbitant levels. Additionally, as has been seen at professional sports events this spring, people seem to be taking their frustrations over the pandemic out on innocent people. The consistent stream of horror stories of rude treatment of employees by customers at hospitality places are appalling. It would seem logical to expect these incidents to continue through the summer.
We must all recognize these are uncharted waters for the Ocean City business community. We need to provide as much support as possible for what should be a successful tourism season because the tourist will be here, but it’s going to come with headaches, anxiety and exhaustion.